Greece is a country with a rich history, culture and religion that spans thousands of years. The Greek islands, which number more than 2,000, are an integral part of this heritage and offer a diverse and fascinating glimpse into the Greek way of life. Whether you are visiting the islands for their stunning natural beauty, their ancient monuments, their delicious cuisine or their lively nightlife, you should also be aware of the customs and traditions that shape the local culture and religion. By respecting and appreciating the values and beliefs of the islanders, you will not only enrich your travel experience but also avoid any misunderstandings or conflicts that could spoil your holiday.
In this blog post, we will provide some tips and advice on how to respect the local culture and religion on the Greek islands and what are some of the dos and don’ts that you should follow. We will cover topics such as:
- The main religion in Greece and the islands
- The role of the Orthodox Church in Greek society
- The religious festivals and celebrations on the islands
- The etiquette and dress code for visiting churches and monasteries
- The cultural norms and expectations for social interactions
- The common gestures and expressions to use or avoid
- The local cuisine and drinking habits
- The environmental awareness and sustainability practices
By following these guidelines, you will be able to enjoy your stay on the Greek islands while showing respect and appreciation for the local culture and religion.
The main religion in Greece and the islands
The main religion in Greece and the islands is Christianity, specifically the Greek Orthodox Church. According to
, 90% of the population in mainland Greece and the Greek islands is Christian Orthodox, while the rest are Muslims, Catholics, Jews and other minorities. The Orthodox Church is one of the oldest branches of Christianity, dating back to the 1st century AD when Saint Paul preached in Greece. It split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054 AD over doctrinal and political differences.
The Orthodox Church is not only a religious institution but also a cultural and national symbol for the Greeks. It played a vital role in preserving the Greek language, culture, traditions and faith during the centuries of foreign occupation by the Ottomans, the Venetians, the Franks and others. It also influenced the development of art, architecture, literature, music and education in Greece. The Orthodox Church is still very influential in Greek society today, although it is officially separated from the state.
The role of the Orthodox Church in Greek society
The Orthodox Church has a significant role in Greek society, especially on the islands where it is more conservative and traditional than on the mainland. The Church organizes many social activities, such as festivals, charities, schools, clubs and associations. It also provides moral guidance and support to its members, especially in times of crisis or hardship. The Church has a hierarchical structure, with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople as its spiritual leader, followed by archbishops, bishops, priests and monks. The priests are usually married men who live among their parishioners and act as their spiritual fathers. The monks are celibate men who live in monasteries and dedicate their lives to prayer and asceticism.
The Orthodox Church has a strong presence on every island, with hundreds of churches, chapels, monasteries and convents scattered across the landscape. Some of them are very old and have historical or artistic value, such as the Monastery of Saint John on Patmos where the Book of Revelation was written, or the Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa on Amorgos which clings to a cliff overlooking the sea. Others are more modern and serve as places of worship for the local communities. Many churches are dedicated to saints who are considered as protectors or patrons of certain places, professions or causes. For example, Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors and fishermen, Saint George is the patron saint of farmers and soldiers, Saint Paraskevi is the patron saint of eyesight and healing.
The religious festivals and celebrations on the islands
One of the most distinctive aspects of the local culture and religion on the Greek islands is the celebration of religious festivals throughout the year. These festivals are not only occasions to honor God and the saints but also to express joy, gratitude, solidarity and hospitality. They are also opportunities to showcase the local traditions, customs, music, dance, food and drink. Some of the most important and popular religious festivals on the islands are:
- Easter: Easter is the most important and celebrated religious festival in Greece and the islands. It commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and is preceded by a period of fasting and repentance. The Holy Week, which starts on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday, is full of rituals and ceremonies, such as the procession of the Epitaphios (the symbolic tomb of Christ) on Good Friday, the Resurrection service and fireworks on Saturday night, and the feast of lamb and eggs on Easter Sunday. Each island has its own variations and traditions for celebrating Easter, such as the rocket war on Chios, the burning of Judas on Corfu, or the pot throwing on Rhodes.
- Name days: Name days are another important and celebrated religious festival in Greece and the islands. They are the days when a person celebrates the saint whose name they bear. For example, if your name is Maria, you celebrate your name day on August 15th, which is the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. Name days are considered more important than birthdays in Greece and are celebrated with family, friends, food, drink and gifts.
- Panigyria: Panigyria are local festivals that take place on the islands throughout the year, usually on the feast day of the patron saint of a village or a church. They are festive gatherings where people from near and far come to pray, socialize, eat, drink, dance and have fun. They usually start with a liturgy in the church, followed by a procession of the icon of the saint around the village. Then, a feast is prepared with local delicacies, such as goat meat, cheese pies, honey, wine and raki. The feast is accompanied by live music, usually with traditional instruments such as the bouzouki, the lyra or the laouto. The music sets the mood for dancing, which can last until dawn. Some of the most famous panigyria on the islands are those of Saint Panteleimon on Naxos, Saint Spyridon on Skyros, Saint Marina on Hydra and Saint Fanourios on Rhodes.
The etiquette and dress code for visiting churches and monasteries
Visiting churches and monasteries on the Greek islands is a great way to admire their architecture, art and history, as well as to experience their spiritual atmosphere. However, you should also be respectful of their religious significance and follow some basic rules of etiquette and dress code. Here are some tips to keep in mind when visiting churches and monasteries:
- Always ask for permission before entering a church or a monastery. Some monasteries may have restricted access or visiting hours for tourists or may require a prior appointment.
- Always dress modestly and appropriately when visiting a church or a monastery. Avoid wearing shorts, skirts above the knee, sleeveless tops or anything too revealing or flashy. You may also be asked to cover your head (for women) or your shoulders (for both men and women) with a scarf or a shawl.
- Always remove your shoes before entering a church or a monastery. This is a sign of respect and humility.
- Always be quiet and discreet when visiting a church or a monastery. Avoid talking loudly, laughing, taking selfies or using your phone. If there is a service going on, do not interrupt or disturb it.
- Always show reverence when entering a church or a monastery. You may cross yourself (right to left), kiss an icon or light a candle as a gesture of devotion or gratitude.
- Always respect the rules and customs of each church or monastery. Some may have specific regulations regarding photography, donations, candles, icons or relics.
The cultural norms and expectations for social interactions
The Greek people are known for their hospitality, friendliness and warmth. They enjoy socializing with family, friends and strangers alike. They are also expressive, passionate and emotional. However, they also have some cultural norms and expectations for social interactions that you should be aware of when visiting the islands. Here are some tips to help you communicate effectively and politely with the locals:
- Greet people with a smile and a handshake when you meet them for the first time. You may also kiss them on both cheeks if you are introduced by someone they know or if they are close friends or relatives.
- Use formal titles (Mr., Mrs., Miss) and surnames when addressing someone you don’t know well or someone older or more senior than you. You may use first names only if they invite you to do so or if you are friends.